Worst Windows flaws of the past decade

The exploits and oversights that left Redmond with egg on its face

Billy Gates, stop making money! Make malware instead.

Bug identifier: MS03-026

Description: Buffer overrun in RPC interface could allow code execution

Alias: The Blaster Worm bug

Date published: July 16, 2003

The DCOM RPC interface is a common component of NT-based Windows OSes, including NT, 2000, XP, and Server 2003. In the summer of 2003, it became the subject of intense scrutiny.

As Microsoft described in the bulletin that accompanied the patch, a successful exploit only required the attacker to send a "specially formed request" to a vulnerable PC -- a bit like dangling candy in front of a ravenously hungry baby.

By August 11, the Blaster worm arrived, and though it spread rapidly, it was fairly easy to block with a firewall.

Unfortunately, protecting home systems with firewalls wasn't common practice at the time. Home users' PCs -- connected directly to the Internet -- got whomped by the worm. When the worm's code crashed the infected computer's RPC service, the computer would display a message warning of imminent shutdown, and unceremoniously reboot itself.

The worm had another message, this one to Microsoft's founder, and embedded within its code: "billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!!"

But it was fixed. Or at least it would have been if people had patched their systems.

At the end of the summer, Microsoft released a second set of updates in MS03-039 that blocked additional ports that attackers could use to mess with the RPC service.

Upshot: We're all in better shape thanks to the wide adoption of firewalls in the home. Thanks in part to Blaster and its ilk, most broadband modems have one built in.

That sassy bug has a lot of spunk

Bug identifier: CVE-2003-0533, MS04-011

Description: Stack-based overflow in certain Active Directory service functions in LSASRV.DLL

Alias: The Sasser bug

Date published: April 13, 2004

In yet another example of ironic buffer-overflow goodness, this bug made the security subsystem of Windows the agent of evil itself. And, once again, malicious coders used Microsoft's own patch to figure out exactly where to target the OS.

As Windows XP's gatekeeper, LSASS (Local Security Authority Subsystem) manages the permissions of a PC's user accounts. So when eEye -- the same company that discovered the Code Red bug -- quietly disclosed the details of this flaw to Microsoft in October 2003, it touched off six months of furious coding in Redmond that culminated in a patch that fixed 13 other Windows 98, NT, 2000, XP, and Server 2003 flaws, as well as the LSASS bug.

And, within 18 days, the Sasser worm was cruising the Internet, hopping from one unpatched machine to another. The poorly coded worm wreaked havoc, shutting down networks around the world. Even though a fix was already available, many users -- in particular, corporate IT managers -- still had not applied MS04-011. By May 1, 2004, work on fixing the unintended damage caused by Sasser had become a round-the-clock operation, says then director of the Microsoft Security Response Center, Kevin Kean, with "a number of war rooms and rotating shifts" for MSRC staffers.

Upshot: What was that about patching as soon as the updates are available? Lessons that should have been learned three years earlier didn't really sink in until Sasser publicly pummeled patchless PCs to pulp.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Windows Vistawindows xpWindows 2000windows 98

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Andrew Brandt

InfoWorld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?